Of all our visits to India, some of the most memorable have been during the annual holidays of Diwali and Holi, when the whole country joins together in exuberant celebration. With the prime season to visit the country between October and March, planning your trip at either end can afford a chance to experience the holidays firsthand, joining in the traditions. And with Micato India’s home office in India, you’ll be well-placed to experience the holidays from a local perspective, even while based in some of the country’s most luxurious hotels.
The festival dates change each year based on the Hindu calendar, with Diwali falling on the Hindu New Year and Holi marking the end of winter and welcoming of Spring.
Known as the Festival of Light, Diwali – or Deepavali – is perhaps India’s best known holiday, observed in Hindu, Jain, and Sikh communities around the world. Nearly one billion people participate in Diwali celebrations worldwide and almost a dozen countries officially recognize it as an official holiday.
The origins of Diwali can be traced to several ancient texts, and the most commonly referenced is the tale of the Hindu god Lord Rama, who returned to his kingdom from 14 years in exile to defeat the demon king Ravana. Diwali is also linked to the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, and ushers in fortune and prosperity for a new year. In every variation of the festival, it is a celebration of the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance,
There is nothing quite like celebrating Diwali in India, where it has been celebrated with the same traditions for centuries. Families and friends gather to enjoy delicious sweets and decorate their homes, temples and workspaces with lanterns, clay lamps (divas), garlands of marigolds, and Rangoli designs. The Hindu tradition, in particular, includes a ritual oil bath before dawn on each day of the festival.
The 2019 Diwali holiday begins on October 20 and lasts for 5 full days.
Perhaps less known outside of India, Holi is marked by exuberant splashes of colour and is the traditional celebration of renewal of the Spring season. Marking the end of winter and honouring the abundance of the upcoming harvest season, Holi celebrations start on the night before with a huge bonfire and prayers. The bonfire symbolizes the triumph of good over evil, and is based on the burning of the evil demoness Holika of Hindu legend.
In communities across the sub-continent, everyone partakes in the celebrations from the very young to the elderly across all levels of society. The day itself is spent splashing brightly coloured Holi powder on oneself, others and everything in between, making this an incredibly photo-worthy festival and a completely unique experience for first-timers. While there are some traditions that are specific to the region, Holi festivities often include singing Bollywood Holi tunes with abandon, dancing in the streets, and relishing special Holi treats in abundance.
This year the Holi celebrations begin with bonfires on the evening of March 20, followed by the splashing of colour day of Dhuleti on March 21.
If the timing doesn’t work to visit India during Diwali or Holi, there are other festivals that are equally compelling, some associated with particular areas of the country.
Honouring the birth of the beloved Hindu elephant-headed god, Lord Ganesha, the Ganesh Chaturthi festival takes place in September. This elaborate celebration includes beautifully decorated statues of Ganesh installed in public and in private homes and worshipped on each day of the festival. On the last day, singing and dancing locals parade the statues through the streets and then submerge them in the ocean. Mumbai is known for hosting one of the most exciting Ganesh Chaturthi festivals.
September 29 – October 9
The Navaratri Festival takes place in honour of the mother goddess Durga. The festival is known as Durga Puja in Eastern India and is the biggest festival of the year in Kolkata, where giant statues of the Goddess Durga are made and then immersed in the river. In Delhi, plays are performed each night to illustrate the most dramatic episodes from the life of Lord Ram, as the tenth day of the festival celebrates his defeat of the demon king Ravan.
September 1 – 13
In Kerala, Onam is the biggest festival of the year, with the main day being September 11. Originally a harvest festival, it marks the homecoming of a mythical king. Locals place elaborate, coluorful flower decorations around the ground in front of their homes to welcome King Mahabali and the festivities include huge feasts, with, sports, games, dancing and snake boat races.
August brings the Krishna Janmashtami celebration (also known as Govinda) which celebrates the birthday of Lord Krishna. On the second day, teams form to create human pyramids, competing to reach and break open curd-filled clay pots which have been strung from the tops of buildings. Known as dahi handi, this activity is best experienced in Mumbai.